Rhetorics of Pain and Desire: The Writings of the Middle English Mystics
Klages, Marisa A.
Doctor of Philosophy, College of Arts and Sciences at West Virginia University, Department of English Morgantown, West Virginia (2008)
This dissertation, “Rhetorics of Pain and Desire: The Writings of the Middle English Mystics,” seeks to explore the connections between desire and pain in the writings of Richard Rolle, Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe and Walter Hilton. All four writers develop a rhetoric that allows them to use pain and/or desire as a catalyst through which their writing becomes embodied. This embodied rhetoric serves the purpose of achieving union with God, while instructing others in the art of fusing the body, pain and desire into the ultimate conduit for divine contemplation.
In each chapter, the development of each writer’s authority is explored through the ways they establish their bodies through pain, desire, and instruction. Chapter 1, investigtates Richard Rolle’s use of the vernacular to gain authority, his position as a teaching hermit, and his anxiety over his own masculinity. Chapter 2 explores Julian of Norwich’s self-inscription as a strategy to transmit her theological position. Chapter 3 focuses on Margery Kempes body as a method of exchange within a culture that repeatedly tried to silence her. Chapter 4 discusses the conservative mysticism of Walter Hilton.
Each of these mystics uses pain and desire to construct a spiritual and divine understanding of his or her body; the body becomes the text written by the Divine. Implicit in their understanding and contemplation of the Divine, born of the yoking of pain and desire, is a received authority to train others in achieving this pathway to attain contemplative union with the Divine. What becomes most important, then, is not simply the achievement of divine union through contemplation, but the ability to educate others so that they may be brought to this same level of spiritual union.